Berlin Phil’s jump-in manages without a score

Berlin Phil’s jump-in manages without a score


norman lebrecht

January 02, 2022

The Israeli conductor Lahav Shani, called in at two days’ notice for the New Year’s Eve concert, led the complicated programme entirely from memory. Shani, 32, had just two rehearsals with the Berlin Philharmonic.

First review here.




  • Corno di Caccia says:

    Well, any competent conductor should be able to conduct from memory. Why is such a big thing made of this? Was it not Stravinsky who said, ‘Score in the head, not head in the score’?

    • Alondra de la parabola says:

      Stravinsky did say that – but unfortunately if you look at Stravinsky conduct, his head was ALWAYS in the score, and he only conducted his own music!

      • ilio says:

        IS conducted other music besides his own. There is a recording for example of the Tchaikovsky 2nd Symphony with the NY Philharmonic.

    • Brian Bell says:

      Though I can’t specify where, I believe that line is commonly attributed to Hans von Bulow.

    • Mark Cogley says:

      As anyone who knows Stravinsky’s conducting can see, he was of the head-in-the-score school.

    • Brian H. says:

      I think you really need to cool your head, o Maestro. Of course any sort of performance from memory can happen at this level, and you’re welcome to expect it from your favorite conductors, especially in a program filled with standards as this one.

      But CLEARLY the focus here is that he did so on hours’ notice. Give the young man a well-earned break and tone down the self-righteous attitude, why don’t we? Thanks.

  • MacroV says:

    Two days before the concert, perhaps, but apparently only two HOURS before the first rehearsal. I guess that’s an invitation you don’t decline. Well done.

    • Daniel says:

      Now if he would just shave!

      • bet says:

        Now if he would just wear a tie.

        Seriously, the orchestra was in tails, it is New Year’s eve, yet he walks on in a suit sans tie, I mean, I know it was last minute and all, still…

        Like restaurants that lend jackets and ties to men who underdressed, maybe orchestras should have tuxedos ready for the last minute maestro

        • Bill says:

          If you close your eyes, can you hear a difference?

          Imagine if a trip to the tailor’s could make Barenboim sound like Kleiber!

  • Achim Mentzel says:

    This should not be worth mentioning. Some can, some can’t. It says nothing about the quality of a conductor. Mariss Jansons could not conduct four bars in a row without gluing his eyes to the score, even in works like a simple Beethoven symphony, which he has conducted for sure more than 50 times in his career. Another prominent candidate for this is their very own chief Kirill Petrenko, who clings desperately to every score. So what?

    • Monsoon says:

      In my experience, it seems like the conductors prone to self-aggrandizing are the most likely to go scoreless, as well as make big gestures with their hands that seem more intended to be seen by the people seated at the back of the hall than communicate anything to the orchestra.

    • Howard Dyck says:

      So what? Very simple. Every moment you’re looking at the score you’re not communicating with your orchestra. That’s what!

    • Sara says:

      Absolutely true, I agree! Usually, greatest conductors know veey well how big distress it is causing between orchestra musicians! Not too many conductors,really could enjoy a benefit of the excellent and infallible memory what means huge and stressful performance for the whole orchestra ensamble…It is not any special privilege if someone can do it. All the responsibility to lead a difficult programme should lay on the conductor who is – therefore – very well paid for.
      When such a “star” is coming out ( worse – if it is by surprise!)without a score, we musicians, start to think that since now – “whatever” may happen…And we will be those who’ll be responsible to “mend” it if happening. Too big distress. Conductors who respect musicians (because they’re ones, too) never do such a “surprises” and if so – they firstly discuss it with orchestral ensamble.

  • dalet says:

    By design or happenstance, both Berlin and Vienna had Die Fledermaus on the program this year.

    Playing the same piece:

    – With Vienna (no credit to Barenboim), you wanted to get up and waltz around your living room.

    – WIth Berlin (no fault of Shani), you wanted to get out of the way of a troop stomping across your living room.

  • Mock Mahler says:

    I recall Georg Solti saying that the fad (as he thought it) for conducting without a score arose just because Toscanini was near-sighted.

  • Monsoon says:

    Complicated program?

    It was the overture from “Die Fledermaus,” “The Firebird” Suite, La Valse, Bruch’s violin concerto, and Fritz Kreisler’s Liebesleid.

    After receiving direction in rehearsal, I highly doubt that the Berlin Philharmonic needed help in concert with someone beating time and cueing entries and accents.

  • Mahleria says:

    It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when conducting without a score merits a headline. Conductors who conduct from memory are a eine a dozen these days. And simply being able to do so is in no way indicative of a better quality performance.

  • Frank says:

    That German critic sure doesn’t like Janine Jansen…

  • Rob says:

    Lahav is the one they should have chosen. He’s hot property.

  • Max says:

    I thought his conducting was careless and uninspiring. It looks the same, no matter which what composer and what sound world the composer is in. (Same thing for his mentors Mehta and Barenboim)
    He conducted often with closed eyes, no real (eye-)connection with the players, no precision in his beats.
    As if he’s trying to look like a 80 year old conductor, who has seen it all.
    He has the confidence of a silver back, but musically he still has to prove a lot, if he doesn’t want to be a yesterday’s-musician.

    • Sara says:

      Truly and exactly what I am considering, too!

    • Music Lover says:

      Perhaps he has a photographic memory (which might explain how he could conduct scoreless at such short notice), like Karajan, who also conducted with eyes closed – makes it easier to “read” the score in your head,

  • Eyal Braun says:

    Otto Klemperer was once asked why he always conducts WITH the score. His answer was : “Because I can read music”……

  • Michel Lemieux says:

    Shani is a hot property. The IPO and Rotterdam were wise to choose him over some very big but much older name conductors.

    I wonder if he will find a way to squeeze an opera musical directorship into his busy schedule.

  • True North says:

    Ah, but did he also have the rehearsal figure numbers memorized? Not much use rehearsing without a score if the conductor always has to glance at the leader’s part to find out where to begin…

  • M2N2K says:

    Memorizing ability by itself does not guarantee high quality of conducting and/or musicianship. However, if a conductor is a truly fine musician, then his/her eye contact with the players may in fact be helpful and therefore become an advantage that leads to producing a better musical result. But if the conductor is mediocre, then I as an orchestral player would prefer for him/her not to look up from the score at all, which would make it easier for us to ignore the podium completely and just make music the way we know how.

  • Harpi Marx says:

    I’d challenge anyone to even hold a baton properly. Let alone conduct from memory. It’s so petty to try to bring folk down. Just applaud the fact he could. To all the toxic hatses, dissenters, Get over yaselves.!

  • Bonetti Micaela says:

    Dare I tell a personal story?
    Years ago, onstage in Vancouver main concert hall: no rehearsal, never seen the score, directly during the concert, a conductor I will not name, asked me to first sight sing a soloist piece he had forgotten (short; and it was no Schönberg, mind you) to watch at!

  • Walter Maclean says:

    I was at the 29.12.21 concert, and he conducted the way that one “conducts” while listening to the radio.
    Lucky for him that the BP is outstandingly tight, and doesn’t need a conductor to sound fantastic!

  • Gustavo says:

    Zube did Mahler 3 at 85 without score in Berlin the other day.

    Thus, I am not very impressed by Shani.